Career Insights from Deb Haaland – First Native American to Serve as U.S. Secretary of the Interior

This blog is part of a series documenting notable people from underrepresented groups and the career insights they provide us. As you read, click links to access additional career development resources.

Deb Haaland: Follow your own timeline

Deb Haaland is the first Native American to serve as the United States Secretary of the Interior, appointed by Joe Biden in 2021. A member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, Haaland was raised by both of her parents, her dad a White, Minnesotan Vietnam War veteran and her mother a Laguna, Navy veteran. As a military child, Haaland moved frequently, attending thirteen different public schools.

While she was fortunate enough to be raised by both her parents, Haaland had to raise her daughter as a single mother. Struggling financially, Haaland did all she could to support herself and her daughter, volunteering at her pre-school and making use of food stamps.

In light of this financial struggle, Haaland prevailed and enrolled for her bachelor’s degree at 28. An important lesson in career development is that you don’t have to follow the same timeline as other people. It doesn’t necessarily matter when you start, it’s just that you do start and make that commitment. Haaland’s situation meant that she had to put off college until she could afford it, and that’s okay.

After getting her bachelor’s, Haaland went on to get her Juris Doctor (J.D.) and entered a career in business and politics. Her first ventures were running a salsa business and chairing the Laguna Development Corporation, after which she sought public office. She first ran for Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico in 2014, but lost. Four years later in 2018 she was elected to represent New Mexico’s 1st district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Alongside Sharice Davids (KS-03), the two are the first Native women to be elected to Congress.

Now, as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Haaland is responsible for overseeing the Department of Interior. The department “manages public lands and minerals, national parks, and wildlife refuges and upholds Federal trust responsibilities to Indian tribes and Native Alaskans.” Given that this office has abused Natives in the past, it is very significant that Haaland is trying to right history’s wrongs. She may have not followed a so-called “conventional” education timeline, but she still ended up where she wanted to.

Reading Haaland’s story, what aspects of her career interest you? Perhaps you want to volunteer, too, or pursue a law degree. Maybe you want to go into business or run for public office. No matter your goals, our office can help you. Schedule an appointment with a Career Coach today through Handshake: https://uconn.joinhandshake.com/login

Sources:

Haaland, Deb. “My grandparents were stolen from their families as children. We must learn about this history.” The Washington Post, The Washington Post, 11 June 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/11/deb-haaland-indigenous-boarding-schools/.

“Secretary Deb Haaland.” U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.doi.gov/secretary-deb-haaland.

“U.S. Department of Interior.” USA.gov, USAGov, https://www.usa.gov/federal-agencies/u-s-department-of-the-interior#:~:text=The%20Department%20of%20the%20Interior,and%20other%20environmental%20conservation%20efforts.

Williamson, Elizabeth. “The Promise and Pressures of Deb Haaland, the First Native American Cabinet Secretary.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 2 June 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/02/us/politics/deb-haaland-interior.html.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Interior

By Erik Zawodniak
Erik Zawodniak Erik Zawodniak